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  • That’s Rosemary Egan, my Mom, on the left. Age 24. Next to her is Ruthie, her best friend in high school, and one of Dad’s little sisters. She’s the one who introduced them to each other. Next to her is Frannie, Dad’s older sister, my Godmother. Joan is on the right, another younger sister of Dad’s. He had 8 sisters in all, 3 older and 5 younger. Rosemary was the oldest of 6 in a family she describes as “poor as church mice”, growing up in Pittsburgh.

    They moved several times while she was growing up, and each new school would test Rosemary upon entry, in order to place her appropriately. She was very bright, and skipped first and third grades in this way, graduating high school after having just turned 15, with a full scholarship to Duquesne University, in Pittsburgh. After a year at Duquesne, she left to work for A.T. & T. Her story is that she didn’t like riding the trolley to university, not how she’d envisioned college life. I don’t know about that - I’ve always believed that her family needed her to work, she was the oldest, and so that’s what she did.

    Rosemary was desperate to get the hell out of Pittsburgh, with a passion. There was nothing there for her, as far as she could see. When World War II broke out, she saw her chance! She would join one of the women’s services, and travel the world. Incredibly, none of them would take her, because she worked for the phone company and they considered the phone company crucial to the war effort, so she had to work in an office, in Pittsburgh, throughout the war.

    Men were few and far between in Pittsburgh during the war. They’d all gone off to fight the war. There were no military bases around Pittsburgh, so they were never around. This was tough on a young, smart and pretty girl looking for fun. Then, one day her best friend from high school days, Ruthie, wanted Mom to meet her older brother, Jim. Rosemary was a bit suspicious at first. “Didn’t you say he was in the Christian Brothers? They’re not allowed to date women, are they?” Ruthie laughed and told Mom that her brother had just left the Brothers, after six years. It was time to commit to the Brother-hood for life, or get out, and Jim chose to get out.

    It was 1944. Rosemary immediately took to Jim. Jim fell head over heels in love with her on that first date, as they drank a 6-pack of Iron City Beer, parked on a hill overlooking the Allegheny River. Jim couldn’t fathom why they needed the additional beers after the drinks they had with dinner. Rosemary, always honest to a fault, said, “Oh, I’m an alcoholic, just like my Dad!” Jim couldn’t believe it! Such a sweet, beautiful, vivacious young woman an alcoholic? He just thought she had a great sense of humor! He would eventually learn that Rosemary was, above everything else, honest to a fault. She didn’t kid around.
    Rosemary knew that Ruthie had lined up other girls for Jim to date, if things didn’t hit it off between them. She moved quickly, and theirs was a whirlwind courtship. Within 4 months, they were married, in January of 1945. Six weeks later, Jim was off to Boot Camp and the Army. Rosemary joined him later in the year, while he was stationed in Minneapolis, learning Japanese at the University of Minnesota, but could not follow him to Hawaii when he got transferred there. But, she was pregnant with their first child, James, III, who was born while Jim was still away. That was July, 1946.

    Jim got out after the war ended, and went to work for the Travelers Insurance Company as a Claims Adjuster. There he would gather many interesting stories from the road, of all the many different interesting people he met. Rosemary stayed home and had babies. Chris came along in March of 1948. His “Irish Twin”, Ken, was delivered 10 months later in January, 1949. Jim kept working, and Rosemary kept delivering. By the time the 4th baby arrived, the first girl, Juli, the family moved out of Pittsburgh, to Derry, PA, on Chestnut Ridge in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Derry made Pittsburgh look like paradise to Mom. It was really out there in the Boonies. 5 babies came in 6 years, from Chris in 1948 to me in 1954. I was baby number 6. The oldest, Jim, was only 8 years old. By the time I arrived, they’d moved back to Pittsburgh, which looked a little better to Rosemary after the Derry experience.

    But, all was not well in the Bridgeman household. Jim started to wonder what was up with his beautiful bride. Nothing he did seemed to make her happy. While she did everything he could possibly expect her to do, in terms of the children and the household, she seemed to be terribly unhappy. They started going to doctors, who were baffled by her condition, and would prescribe various medications to “fix” her. None of them made the connection between her drinking and her ailments. It got worse, as the drugs interacted with the alcohol to make matters infinitely worse for her. She continued to fulfill all of her motherly duties as she sank deeper and deeper into her inescapable hell. In 1960, her 7th and last child, Maryrose, was born. By 1962, she was desperate for a way out of hell, and tried taking her own life. This really got Jim’s attention. He was clueless about what to do for her. He felt like a complete failure as a husband.

    Rosemary’s next youngest brother, Pat, had been a real hell-raiser his entire life, the wildest of the Egan clan. While nobody thought Rosemary had a drinking problem – she fit right in with her Irish family of hard-drinkers – everyone knew Pat was a problem. Pat found a way out of his personal hell. He lived in Kent, Ohio, not far from where AA got started 20 years earlier in Akron, and he got “12-stepped” on a barstool by an early AA member who never made it into recovery. He told Pat about AA, Pat was ready and he got well. He quickly realized that his big sister was in serious trouble. He spent the next few years applying to her what he’d learned in AA. He did not try to get her to stop drinking. In fact, when they got together, he would ply her with drinks. And he talked to her. He told her his story. Whenever he came to Pittsburgh, she went over to her parents’ to visit him. He was her favorite sibling. Finally, one day a couple years after her failed suicide attempt, she called Pat and said she needed help. He quickly took action, and made a reservation for her in the same hospital where AA was born.

    Rosemary quickly took to the program, and many of her ills disappeared, seemingly overnight. She got very involved with AA in Pittsburgh, and went to meetings regularly. The next 4 years were vibrant and alive. With her 4 oldest children in college, she decided to go back to resume her studies as well, enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh. Attending her oldest son, Jim’s, wedding at Yale University in Connecticut, she and her family were late, as they got lost on the way to the wedding. At the reception afterwards, the only thing to drink was an alcoholic punch. Mom needed something to drink, so she figured one or two couldn’t hurt, after all, she’d been sober for 4 + years! Once she started, there was no stopping, and she got a good drunk on.

    The next morning, she was devastated. Jim braced for another round of her extreme, drunken behavior, but it never happened. She grew a resolve to change. She never drank again. She finished her studies and determined to work in the field of alcoholism recovery. She began to grow and to blossom. At age 44, she began the process of reinventing herself. She finally convinced Jim to take a transfer to the Travelers’ Home Office in Connecticut, and finally broke free of Pittsburgh, never to look back. The Home Office was not Jim’s cup of tea, and much as Rosemary had come to love Connecticut, they decided to take a transfer to Philadelphia, where Jim would run the Claims office there. They got a home in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, across the river from Philly, and Rosemary soon thereafter became the director of Ala-Call, a 24 hour crisis hotline, serving the entire state of New Jersey, providing phone counseling and referral services to people experiencing problems related to alcohol.

    She spent the next 20 years of her life doing this. She had only been doing it for a couple of years when I showed up on her doorstep, fresh out of the Navy and looking for help with my drinking problem. She’s the first person I admitted it to. She pointed me in a direction for help. When that didn’t work, she pointed me in another direction. She tolerated me sleeping in their house when I just couldn’t go on with life outside, and couldn’t find anything that worked for me. When I finally thought I’d found an answer, at the Depression Clinic of the V.A. Hospital in Philadelphia, she encouraged me, and I always felt like she knew I could make it through. Not through anything she said. There was just a quiet strength and a belief in me there that I did not have in myself.

    She was always there; always open, always willing to provide support and encouragement as I tried to find my way out of my own hell. After Dad had died, and she decided to retire, and then to move down here to South Carolina, I was thrilled to be able to help her with that move. One of my very favorite moments with Rosemary, Mom, was that first morning, walking along the Pawley’s Island beach with her, and knowing that this was the fulfillment of her lifelong dream to live by the ocean. She had finally made it! My next favorite memory was probably yesterday, when I finally got her down to the beach again, after a long, hard year of medical difficulties and setbacks. I was then, as I will always be, humbled to be able to call Rosemary “Mom”. Quite a lady.
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